Monday, March 16, 2015

Villette-along Week 3: "A pink dress! I knew it not. It knew not me."

After this week, I'm more certain that I love Lucy and moderately less certain that I love Dr. John, and a surprise dark horse has emerged in the competition for Lucy's heart.

But Lucy. Allow me to briefly sing her praises.

She's clearly smitten with Dr. John and, if that little tangent about his portrait is any indication, has been since they were teenagers. But she still brings up Ginevra Fanshawe's name just because she knows it will make John happy if he's given an opening to talk about her. She submits willingly to play the Watts to his Eric Stoltz.

Complete with occasional
sass, of course.

She's aware and accepting enough of her shortcomings to be candid with M. Paul about her difficulty in caring for Marie Broc by herself. He's hard on her about it, but she doesn't give in to the temptation to make herself out as a naturally patient caregiver when she's not. And there's no shame in that at all. Not everyone is cut out to care for children, let alone children with special needs, and that was not her job at the school. She got the responsibility by default because she was the only one not leaving town for the holiday. She did her best, and she isn't going to beat herself up about it.

But even as harsh as M. Paul has been with Lucy, I'm joining Jenny in championing him as a suitor. Beginning with the vaudeville, he's been steadily challenging Lucy to be more than she thinks she can be (with tough love). He's not going to gush over her the way John does with Ginevra or encase her in jewelry, probably, but his admiration for her is based in fact and not fantasy and is thus worth infinity more than all of John's flattery and presents. M. Paul's methods are unconventional, but I think Lucy recognizes their merit.
M. Josef Emanuel stood by them while they played; but he had not the tact or influence of his kinsman, who, under similar circumstances, would certainly have compelled pupils of his to demean themselves with heroism and self-possession. M. Paul would have placed the hysteric debutantes between two fires—terror of the audience, and terror of himself—and would have inspired them with the courage of desperation, by making the latter terror incomparably the greater.

Music teachers: Terrifying their students into excellence
since the 1800s at least but probably even before that

Next to M. Paul, Dr. John, with all his square jaw and strong chin, looks bland. Although I am liking him much better now that the Ginevra Spell is broken (take note, ladies: do not laugh at a man's mother), he has a worrying habit of being generally . . . close-minded.

For example, contrast Lucy's disdain for the "Cleopatra" painting with his. Where she is adorably confused as to why everyone is so impressed by this sizable woman who is naked and lying on a couch amidst her own clutter in the middle of the day, John goes straight to body shaming with a side of skin-color prejudice as casually as he would ask Martha what's for dinner.

And in his tirade against Ginevra at the concert, he puts Lucy in the awkward position of having to defend a person whom she doesn't much like. Even as insufferable as Ginevra is, Lucy is fair enough to see that she hardly deserves to be a labeled a slut because of the very specific meaning Dr. John assigned to a very brief look she exchanged with de Hamal across a crowded room.

I love Dr. John's banter with his mother and Lucy, and I'm pretty sure I would also love his face, but I'm afraid he's the sort of man who's only safe for women who manage not to fall off the precarious pedestal he's placed them on. We've all encountered such men. They're the ones who have very particular ideas about what women should want and how they should behave, and dangerously little respect for those women who fall short of those strictures.

No, my vote is for M. Paul.
Yet, in the midst of prejudice and annoyance, I could not, while watching, avoid perceiving a certain not disagreeable naivete in all he did and said; nor could I be blind to certain vigorous characteristics of his physiognomy, rendered conspicuous now by the contrast with a throng of tamer faces: the deep, intent keenness of his eye, the power of his forehead—pale, broad, and full—the mobility of his most flexible mouth.
If popular culture has taught us anything, it's that righteously abrasive men and composed yet opinionated women, when combined and mixed with cold weather, lead to a chemical reaction of hot-flaming love.

Don't worry, M. Paul. Next time she won't choose to study
another man's coat sleeve instead of your glorious hawk-like face.

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